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Time For Terrelle

COLUMBUS — This isn’t the same Terrelle Pryor who was the starting quarterback at Ohio State as a freshman two seasons ago.

It’s also not the same guy who wore a message on his eyeblack supporting Michael Vick or who has occasionally lashed out his doubters and grated on his teammates.

“It’s a huge difference from when he first got here to now, his maturity and how he became a leader,” safety Tyler Moeller said. “When he first got here, I don’t think too many people liked him, really. He was kind of a punk. But now I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a great player and a great leader and I’d follow him into battle any day.”

A wise and wizened junior, Pryor has taken a few shots on the field and off but now is being counted on to guide a Buckeyes team considered one of the best in the country.

One brief exchange this summer said volumes about Pryor’s progress.

Asked how he would describe what he planned to be this fall for the Buckeyes, he said, “Electrifying.”

Then, tempering his youthful exuberance with a dose of his coach’s restraint, he added, “And no turnovers.”

Pryor arrived in Columbus with Heisman Trophy talent. It’s clear by those telling final three words that the willowy quarterback considered the best recruit in the country three years ago has officially bought into the Buckeye way of football.

Pryor, the MVP of the Rose Bowl, has come around to coach Jim Tressel’s way of thinking. And Tressel’s way of thinking is to not overburden his quarterback.

“My first year here I had fun. Last year I was thinking too much,” Pryor said. “I had to think about the defense, think about the play, think about matchups. I was getting myself caught up into thinking too much. Where I am now, I feel like I just do it by reaction. That’s a major thing to get to that reaction part.”

He has also become a friend to many on the team. That wasn’t always the case. Pryor concedes to Moeller’s point.

“I was arrogant. I was kind of to myself,” he said. “I didn’t know what was special to me. I didn’t know what I loved. When you grow up and mature and (are) around a great group of guys that tell you that they don’t like (how you act), you can grow from it. I think that’s how I grew.”

A year ago, Pryor rushed for 779 yards to lead the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s statistics go back to 1944 and no quarterback has led the Buckeyes in rushing in all that time, until last year.

He also passed for 2,094 yards, completing 57 percent of his passes for 18 TDs with 11 interceptions.

It was in the Rose Bowl victory against Oregon, on the biggest stage of his career, that Pryor gave his finest performance. He passed for 266 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 72 yards on a knee that would eventually require surgery and the Buckeyes snapped a three-game losing streak in BCS games with a 26-17 victory.

There are still some questions about his elongated throwing motion and his decision-making. Much like the player he is most often compared to, former Texas star and Titans quarterback Vince Young, that may cost him when he decides to come out for the NFL draft. But Pryor says he’ll spend all four years in Columbus, even though any decision is still a long way away.

For now, he’s committed to winning a national championship.

“What a national title team needs to have, you need to have leadership, togetherness,” Pryor said during preparations for Ohio State’s season opener on Sept. 2 against Marshall. “You must be together. We’re a very tight group. I’ve never been so tight with a group since I came to college. My freshman and sophomore years, guys were just all on their own, you know? This group, we do everything together. We joke on each other. We stay in the locker room after practice and we talk with each other. I think that’s a big thing.”

Tressel, starting his 10th season as Buckeyes coach, stresses that Pryor means a lot more to the Buckeyes than just his stats.

“Now he has to kind of continue to grow and mature in his own job but he’s also being looked to from the rest of the group as a guy that they want to lead them,” he said.

In the past few months, Pryor has added some muscle, a few tattoos (colorful ones up one side and down the other of his throwing arm) and a new hair style (a box cut) to his 6-foot-6 frame. He’s also gained a healthy disregard for what a lot of people think about him. He used to stew about critics who questioned him, particularly his passing ability.

He’s lost the large chip that used to be attached to his shoulder pads.

Now it’s as if he’s ready to take the next step, to earn the respect of any doubters outside of the team’s Woody Hayes practice facility.

“Freshman year we were outright Big Ten champs and lost a close game to Texas (in the Fiesta Bowl),” wide receiver DeVier Posey said. “Last year we won the outright Big Ten title and won the Rose Bowl game. I don’t know about you guys’ standards, but that sounds pretty good to me. Going into his third year he definitely has high expectations for himself.”

Pryor says he’s ready to take on more responsibility in the huddle and the locker room.

“I think I’m just a natural leader,” he said. “I’ve matured a lot. I talk a lot about maturing but I think me growing up from being a freshman and dealing with the older guys like Beanie Wells, then last year, I was kind of confused with some of the offense and I was trying to learn about defenses. Now we can finally get it together. I’m not saying I’m perfect and I know everything, but I know I can hold my own in a meeting room with my coach. Let’s start off with that.”

As the highest profile athlete on an elite team, it figures that Pryor will get a lot of attention for individual awards. He’s already flattered to be listed as a Heisman front-runner.

“I mean, it’s great for me to be mentioned,” he said.

Just as quickly, he added, “But it means nothing to me, actually. Everything that matters to me is my teammates and going into battle and going into a game every weekend and trying to come out on top.”

The 21-year-old knows he holds the Buckeyes’ future in his hands.

“Team accomplishment is bigger than individual accomplishment,” he said. “I can’t wait to get together with these guys and take the field in that first game.”